The Fifth Down: Week Four
For 30 long days, senior Matt Castronuova has waited to make his debut for Jackson Memorial, and the time is now here on Friday night in a big Class A South game against Toms River North.
Castronuova transferred from cross-town rival Jackson Liberty to the Jaguars in the preseason and had to sit out for 30 days due to the NJSIAA transfer rule. His family argued that he had a bona fide change of address to the Memorial side of town, but he was ultimately ruled to have to sit out. Because he transferred within the same school district, the decision was not made by the NJSIAA, but by rule was made by Jackson Schools Superintendent Dr. Stephen Genco and the Board of Education.
"We tried to get the decision overturned and went through a lot of meetings with the superintendent, but I never wanted to change my decision (to go to Jackson Memorial) regardless of what happened,'' Castronuova said.
There had been a brewing sentiment at Jackson Liberty that its top athletes were continually ending up at Jackson Memorial via transfer, or living on the Liberty side of town but attending Jackson Memorial without penalty. Castronuova's transfer exacerbated the issue after he had been a three-year starter and the top player on the Lions after earning Shore Sports Network second-team All-Shore honors as a safety last year. The position of the former schools of many seniors who have to sit out after transferring is basically that if you don't want to sit out, just don't transfer.
With all that behind him, Castronuova is focused on taking the field for the Jaguars against the Mariners after having to watch as they lost a 30-24 overtime thriller to No. 2 Brick in front of a capacity crowd at John J. Munley Field on Saturday night. Castronuova served as Jackson's ball boy during the game.
"I don't know how I kept myself off the field,'' he said. "I just wish I could be out here, be a game-changer and make a play. I'm just looking forward to the competition."
Castronuova gives the Jaguars another weapon in the passing game at wide receiver, and also is one of the top safeties in the Shore. He had 67 tackles, 54 of them solo, six tackles for a loss and two interceptions last year for Jackson Liberty despite missing some games with a concussion.
Getting back on the field will also be important recruiting-wise. For many seniors, the film from their first four games of their senior year can be huge as far as grabbing a scholarship offer. Castronuova doesn't have that film, but he said he has regularly kept in contact with Lafayette and Monmouth University, which he said are both recruiting him as a cornerback.
"I thought about it when I had to sit,'' he said. "What am I going to do without colleges seeing me? They said, 'Do what's best for you (if you have to transfer).' They have film from last year, and the recruiting process isn't over yet."
Castronuova is one of a handful of transfers who have arrived as midseason reinforcements to bolster their teams. Neptune senior Royal Moore returned a week early last Friday after changing his legal guardian status to cement a bona fide change of address. He had been ruled to sit out 30 days after transferring from Ocean, where he was the starting quarterback and one of the Shore's top defensive backs last season. He ran for 140 yards while primarily playing running back on offense as well as cornerback in a 24-7 win over previously unbeaten Red Bank Regional.
“He was everything I expected,” Neptune head coach Rodney Taylor told SSN's Bob Badders. “The kid has stepped in and done everything we’ve asked him to do. He had a good game today and got his feet wet in the red and black. He’s going to contribute for us in a lot of different ways.”
“After sitting out three games I was excited to get back on the field,” Moore said. “It hurt to be on the sidelines watching my teammates play and going 1-2. We’re happy to get this win and go to 2-2, and we hope to keep building off this.”
St. John Vianney also adds junior slotback/defensive back Jeff Sheard, a Keyport transfer who led the Red Raiders with 21 catches for 434 yards and 5 touchdowns last year. He is one of five high-impact transfers for the unbeaten Lancers and the only one who had to sit out because it was determined that he did not have a legitimate change of address outside the Keyport school district. He gives them another speedy weapon on jet sweeps and in the passing game.
Piners dealing with adversity
While the Sayreville hazing scandal dominated the headlines state-wide, before Lakewood took on Jackson Liberty in its 9-8 loss on Oct. 3, the Piners were blind-sided by an incident that occurred in the early hours of that Friday morning.
Three Lakewood players were arrested in connection with alleged armed robberies that took place on Oct. 2, including senior linebacker Devin Delanie, whose bail has been set at $250,000. Four teenagers in all were arrested, and Lakewood head coach L.J. Clark said three of them were football players. The other two players were not named by police because they are minors.
Clark said he could not comment on anything specific regarding the incident or give any general statements on it. The players are facing multiple charges of armed robbery, possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, and theft.
All three of the players are starters, and the Piners did not find out about the incident until that morning in school, only hours before their 3:45 p.m. game against Jackson Liberty. They faced a Lions team that had its own adversity, as the father of sophomore lineman Chase Holden passed away from a terminal illness earlier in the week.
Lakewood has worked hard to rehabilitate its image after a lost decade of finishing at the bottom of the standings and dealing with disciplinary issues. It has plenty of success stories like Temple-bound senior quarterback Chapelle Cook, FCS prospect Datrell Reed and junior running back/linebacker Amir Tyler, who has an offer from Temple. None of them were involved in the incident. While the eye-opening allegations no doubt tarnish all the good work the Piners have done in resurrecting their program, it should not be reflective of the whole team. They have a bye week this week as they try to regroup before facing Donovan Catholic on Oct. 18.
Lighting it up
Mater Dei Prep is off to a 3-1 start on the heels of its breakout six-win season in which it reached the semifinals of the Non-Public Group I playoffs after years at the bottom of the standings. The reason is obvious - an offense that has averaged 37 points per game.
The engine driving it is senior quarterback Christian Palmer, a three-year starter who is on pace to become the first Shore Conference quarterback to go over 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards passing in one season since current Brick senior Carmen Sclafani did it in 2012 in his sophomore year at Toms River North.
Palmer has rushed for 458 yards and 7 touchdowns on an average of 11.5 yards per carry while also throwing for 597 yards and 9 touchdowns on an average of 24 yards per completion. He has the deepest group of weapons he has had in his three years with running back Zach Bragg and versatile threats Eddie Lewis and Tysaun White.
The main challenges for the Seraphs are looming on the horizon against Point Beach (Nov. 8) and Shore Regional (Oct. 18) in two big Class B Central games. It will be up to the offense to prove it can score on the two best defenses in the division against the defending division champion (Shore) and the defending Central Jersey Group I champion (Point Beach).
Its first four games have been against opponents with a combined record of 4-12 and its three wins are over teams with a combined record of 1-11, but Mater Dei Prep is certainly building steam toward those showdowns that will put their high-scoring offense against two rugged defenses that have been tough for any opponent to score on all year.
Not only was the Jackson Memorial-Brick showdown on Saturday night the early contender for the game of the year in the Shore Conference this season, the atmosphere was also one of the best since the Brick-Brick Memorial game in Week One.
Brick's Dog Pound student section was out in force as usual, and the home team's Jaguar Nation also was roaring from the opening whistle. Great job by both fan bases.
Rumson-Fair Haven senior star Charlie Volker is questionable for this week's big nondivisional showdown against Long Branch after the Princeton-bound tailback missed a 35-28 loss to St. John Vianney last week with a high ankle sprain, according to coach Bryan Batchler.
Volker will be evaluated by the athletic trainer on Thursday, so it could be close to a game-time decision as to whether he decides to play. Not only is it a match-up of two Top 10 teams, but it's also crucial for power points as both teams jockey for high seeds in their respective state playoff brackets.
News and notes
**When Brick senior Ja'Quez Johnson catches the ball, it usually means six. He had two catches in the Green Dragons' 30-24 overtime win, and one was a huge one, a 7-yard touchdown on fourth-and-goal that helped tie the game in the fourth quarter to send it into overtime.
"I think he has about six catches this year, and four of them are for touchdowns,'' senior quarterback Carmen Sclafani said.
**Mater Dei Prep picked up its first win over Keyport since the Seraphs beat the Red Raiders in back-to-back years in 1996 and 1997. That was Mater Dei's first shutout of a Shore Conference opponent since beating Red Bank Regional 29-0 in 2006.
**Red Bank Catholic senior linemen Neil Horenburg and Dan Wilen both picked up offers from St. Francis (Pa.) on Wednesday, according to coach Jim Portela. Former RBC lineman Lorenzo Coscarelli and former defensive end Shawn McCord are both playing at St. Francis currently.
**Long Branch senior Dahmiere Willis leads the Shore Conference with 898 yards rushing and has 10 touchdowns in four games on an average of 9.8 yards per carry.
**After allowing 41 points in a season-opening loss to Raritan, Manasquan's defense has only allowed a combined 13 points in its last three games, all wins.
**Great individual battle in Matawan's 28-27 win over Monmouth. Falcons senior wideout Isaiah Searight, a Fordham recruit, had 11 catches for 129 yards and a touchdown, while Matawan junior cornerback Dejohn Rogers had two takeaways, an interception and a fumble recovery, both of which he ripped out of a Monmouth player's hands, and had two pass break-ups. He also had a touchdown catch on offense.
**Junior Devin Connelly is averaging 8.5 yards per carry for Point Boro in its 3-1 start and is second on the team with 239 yards rushing.
**The first varsity field goal for Point Beach freshman Sean Gould turned out to be a crucial one in a 9-6 nonconference win over Spotswood.
**Asbury Park, Manchester, Colts Neck, Keyport, Holmdel and Wall enter Week Five searching for their first win under new coaches.
**East Stroudsburg defensive tackle Bryan Thomson (Keyport) named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week.
**Rown running back Withler Marcelin (Ocean Twp.) named Offensive Player of the Week and The College of New Jersey running back Khani Glover (Jackson Memorial) named Offensive Rookie of the Week by the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
**Monmouth University safety Mike Basile (Brick Memorial) was named the Big South Conference Freshman of the Week for the third time this season.
**Salisbury University junior quarterback John Dunbar (Pt. Boro) named the Empire 8 Conference Offensive Player of the Week.
**Patriots' tight end Tim Wright (Wall) had 5 catches for 85 yards and a touchdown in New England's win over previously unbeaten Cincinnati on Sunday night.
**The craziest stat of the weekend came from college football. Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday threw for a FBS-record 734 yards against California, and the Cougars lost (!). Insane.